Lawmakers in California have saved the day, as far as the University of California-Berkeley community is concerned. Potential applicants to graduate programs at the top public business school in the United States have one less thing to worry about, too.
Less than two weeks after the California Supreme Court concurred with a lower-court ruling from last summer that the University of California-Berkeley must freeze undergraduate enrollment at 2020-2021 levels because of the detrimental effects of the school’s constant expansion — throwing into jeopardy the fall 2022 admission plans of thousands of applicants — the state Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom acted in record time, passing a law that gives schools more time to respond to judicial mandates on enrollment reduction.
The law, SB 118, passed the Legislature unanimously and was signed by the governor Monday (March 14); it “ensures that student enrollment at a college campus is not singled out as a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” according to a statement from Newsom’s office, “while preserving requirements that campus long-range development plans are comprehensively reviewed for environmental impacts.”
AS MANY AS 3,050 ADMITS FACED VIRTUAL OR DEFERRED START TO CLASSES
The case goes back to August 2021, when an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a nonprofit representing the university’s neighbors and ordered UC-Berkeley to cap its enrollment, saying the school’s recently completed environmental impact report pertaining to proposed expansion was “insufficient.” The school’s enrollment had been projected to grow to 44,735 in 2022-23; according to Inside Higher Ed, that’s more than 11,000 students and 33.7% higher than the headcount for 2020.
Organized as a nonprofit called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, the school’s neighbors weren’t having it — and Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman concurred. UC-Berkeley asked the California Supreme Court for a stay of Seligman’s ruling, but the high court rejected the school’s appeal March 3.
The university faced an enrollment cap of approximately 42,347 students. To get there, officials said that the school must cut in-person enrollment by as many as 3,050 this fall. According to a university plan published by several media outlets, most of those who had already been admitted for the fall 2022 semester — about 1,500 — were to be offered the option to study as online-only students in the fall, coming to campus for the first time in January 2023. Another large group were to defer enrollment until January.
TOTAL HAAS STUDENT POPULATION: ~2500
From UC-Berkeley’s perspective, SB 118 forestalls what university officials had portrayed as a catastrophic constraint on enrollment. But the original ruling and the state Supreme Court’s March 3 decision to uphold it did not seem to directly threaten the Haas School of Business, to which undergraduates cannot be admitted before their third year.
However, in response to the sudden need to cut student numbers, the university had directed the Haas School to reduce its graduate population by 70 seats.
Seventy seats would not have been easy to eliminate for UC-Berkeley Haas, whose full-time MBA is the highest-ranked public-school program in the United States, ranked ninth in the most recent Poets&Quants list and tied for seventh on last year’s U.S. News list. (The new U.S. News ranking is due later this month.) It is also one of the smallest, with an enrollment last fall of just 291, down from its high during the pandemic of 331. Among top-25 programs, only Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business — with 294 students enrolled last fall — has a comparably small MBA class.
Counting both classes, the Haas School’s full-time MBA population is around 550. In its two-year undergraduate program, Haas has around 700 students; including the 800 students in its part-time Evening & Weekend MBA and 140 in its MBA for Executives program, the school has a total student population of around 2,500.
UC PRESIDENT, BERKELEY CHANCELLOR PRAISE STATE LAWMAKERS
Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ responded to the swift passage of SB 118 by praising lawmakers.
“On behalf of the thousands of students who will benefit from (Monday’s) vote, I want to thank California’s legislators for their quick and effective response,” Christ said. “At Berkeley we are, and will remain, committed to continuing our efforts to address a student housing crisis through new construction of below market housing. We look forward to working in close, constructive collaboration with our partners in Sacramento in order to advance our shared interest in providing California students with an exceptional experience and education.”
UC President Michael Drake said the Legislature’s action “affirms the University of California’s obligations under CEQA while also safeguarding the bright futures of thousands of hardworking prospective UC-Berkeley students. The University shares our campus neighbors’ desire to undertake growth in a way that respects the surrounding community and mitigates impacts on the environment. We believe this bill provides a clearer, more transparent and more predictable process for analyzing and managing the environmental impact of campus populations under CEQA while also ensuring students are not harmed because of ongoing policy disagreements.”
But the fight may not be over. Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, was quoted by the Associated Press saying “this poorly drafted bill will result in more litigation.”
“UC Berkeley does not have the capacity to handle more students,” Bokovoy said. “We don’t want new students to have to live in their cars.”